I have an eight-week-old baby and a three-year-old son, and my obsession with screen time was ruining our lives.
At various times since my first child was born, I had introduced a relatively screen-free lifestyle. We’ve gone for months at a time without my son having any access to a screen at all.
We’ve also had periods of time where we have had excessive exposure to screens; where breakfast, lunch and dinner have all been consumed with a side dish of YouTube.
In the first couple of weeks after our baby was born, the three-year-old spent a lot of time snuggled with us watching movies, or playing at our feet accompanied by the iPad. Initially, I was accepting of this.
I had a new baby, I was recovering from a C-section, and my husband had come down with a virus that meant he wasn’t in a position to provide a great deal of support.
So I let the screen thing happen, and we all relaxed into the adjustment to becoming a family of four.
Then, as all started to return to life as we knew it, the screen time exposure naturally started to reduce. We began returning to our regular activities, I began to feel more confident going out and about with a newborn and a three-year-old, and we found ourselves using the screens less than we had been in the earliest days – but still more than we had before baby arrived.
One night, I started reading articles online that talked about the dangers of screen time exposure. About the importance of having our children outside, engaged in the natural environment, for hours every day. And I started to worry that maybe our screen time was doing damage to our kids.
I joined parenting pages that outlined daily activities designed to stimulate and entice the enquiring minds which were developing in our care. I started to feel an enormous pressure to be doing more. And more. And more.
In an effort to ensure I was being the screen-free parent I needed to be, I began filling our days with a barrage of activities. We’d plan play dates and playgroups and park dates. On the rare occasions we were at home, I’d stay up late at night, setting up the activities I had googled, ready to engage as soon as the sun rose in the morning.
I based the success or failure of my day – and as myself as a parent, and honestly, as a person – on whether or not my son had watched TV. We were in a constant state of rush. I had no time to just sit and BE with my newborn baby, who was getting carted from activity to activity, or event to event.
My son was becoming chronically overtired from being in a state of perpetual movement and activity, and being offered no opportunity to rest or reconnect with me or his sister in a slow and gentle way.
One night, my husband came home to me sweating, and explaining that I felt sick and had tingling in both my hands. I was trying to cook dinner but was shaking and could not stay focused on the task, I kept pacing back and forth, unable to calm my mind or stay still.
Concerned about my wellbeing, he wrapped me in a hug and sent me to bed. He told me to to cuddle the baby, rest, and leave him to take care of dinner, the house, and our other child.
And as I lay in the bed, feeding the baby and trying to regulate my breathing, I realised that I had been experiencing a panic attack.
Comedian and radio-presenter Em Rusciano talks about working with post-natal depression. Post continues after audio.
After my first pregnancy, I had experienced both post natal depression and post natal anxiety, as the result of a traumatic birth.
This time, I thought I had put every possible measure in place to support myself and our family, to prevent the experience occurring again.
But what I hadn’t considered, was the power of internal pressure – and how the push to be the perfect parent would be enough to send me back into a state of anxiety that left me unable to function.
The next day, a good friend came to visit.
She observed my son behaving hyperactively, something she wasn’t used to seeing from him. She listened to me talk about the things we’d been doing and where we’d been going and what we’d been creating – and she noted that I myself seemed to be a little hyperactive, and far less calm and at peace than I had been the last time she’d seen me, just a fortnight earlier.
We were completely overstimulated and desperately in need of rest. I just didn’t realise it.
My friend listened as I explained how I had become fixated with removing screens from our lives; how any screen exposure left me feeling a guilty, frantic mess and I would not even use it to allow my son a quiet rest during the day, or to give me an opportunity to cook dinner, or feed the baby.
I thought no screens meant we had to be on the go constantly; and that anything less was nothing short of failure. Even with a newborn, and a body that still needed time to heal.
Monique Bowley and Presenter Rebecca Judd speak with Midwife Cath Curtin about the first six weeks with a newborn baby. They talk arriving home from hospital, breastfeeding, and adapting to life as a mum. Post continues after audio.
I had convinced myself that if I permitted ourselves to accept the respite a bit of TV or some time on the iPad would offer us, I would be risking my children’s social, emotional and academic development. My friend gently pointed out that my fixation was steering us away from everything I valued in our lives – slow, calm and a sense of peace. My driving force was driving us away from everything that really mattered. She suggested that instead of striving for my perception of perfection, perhaps what I should be searching for, was balance.
As I reflected on her words, I realised just how correct she was.
There are no winners when a parent pushes them self to the brink of exhaustion. There are just frazzled families, and children who are being raised in an environment of extremes. So today, I’m sitting beside my child while I nurse my baby. We’re watching a movie together. I am letting ourselves have this time.
Because I know, that when my children have grown up and are making up the fabric of society’s next generation, it won’t matter in the slightest if some days we sat together and watched TV. Or that some days they played on an iPad while I made their meals.
What will matter, is that I was there.
That I was calm enough to be present.
That I had given myself – and them – the gift of knowing when enough is enough. Because sometimes, the very best thing we can do, is to just give ourselves a break.
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA – Post and Antenatal Depression Association. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306.